A decision looms in the NBA that could change the landscape of the league for several years to come. That’s to be expected when the greatest basketball player of all-time (yeah, I said it) has an open run of where he can play next season. But if you think Lebron James’ decision just affects the Cleveland Cavaliers, the rest of the Eastern Conference or even his legacy, you’re sadly mistaken.
Lebron’s decision affects the economy of northern Ohio, the growth of basketball around the area and certainly from a media perspective – the popularity of sports radio in Cleveland. Sure, hosts will still be able to rely on topics centered on the Cavs, as well as the Indians and Browns, but there’s no denying that losing the biggest star in the NBA would have a considerable effect on sports radio stations in the city.
Though that seems grim, there’s actually a big silver lining for everyone associated with sports radio in Cleveland. Name any market in the country and you’ll find sports radio stations bracing for lower ratings in the summer. It’s natural and happens every year.
Cleveland, however, may be preparing for its biggest ratings push of the year in the months of June and July, which is something that’s usually unprecedented in a major city Why? Well, there’s no bigger story in sports today than where Lebron is going to play next season.
Most hosts across the country might be scrambling for topics to fill a show during the summer months, but hosts in Cleveland have the luxury of covering one of the biggest sports stories in the history of the city. Though the NBA Finals are over, Clevelanders haven’t tuned out sports radio. They’re locked in as ever to hear the latest reports and rumors on where King James is leaning. If Lebron does leave Cleveland, he won’t do so without giving sports radio a huge ratings boost.
However, there’s certainly a lot to be gained for stations in Cleveland if Lebron decides to stay in town. Yes, it keeps the Cavaliers as a national brand in the NBA, but it also keeps the market held in high regard. As Nicholas Wilson of 92.3 The Fan told me, young talent from across the country have flocked to Cleveland to cover the best basketball player on the planet. If Lebron does leave, would that same talent stay in the city? Would Cleveland still be on the radar for talented, up and comers in the business?
As the decision looms, Wilson shares insight on how much is at stake in the next month for local stations like 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
TM: Would you say this the biggest sports story in the history of Cleveland?
NW: It’s up there. I’ll honestly say that the Cavs’ title two years ago is probably the biggest story in recent history. Lebron owns the biggest stories of the last 5-10 years along with the Indians World Series run. But if you look at the way this thing is going to build, seeing as we’re a month out, I think the optics of this are different than the decision to leave in 2010 and the decision to return in 2014. I think the average Clevelander knows that there’s a lot of speculation on Lebron’s future.
I think it’s still going to be a Top 5-10 story in Cavaliers history, but I think it’s minimized a bit because the championship has already been won. People in Cleveland still want Lebron to be back, but the stakes don’t feel as big as they were in 2010.
TM: You just alluded to the frustration level not being as high as 2010 if he leaves. But as a show host, are you rooting for the outbursts if he decides to leave town again?
NW: I’m not so foolish to not show self-interest, absolutely. Lebron is the ever-ripened fruit on the evergreen tree. He always gives you content.
Selfishly, I want him to be back because he makes the Cavs more interesting, but I don’t know if there’s going to be the outburst. There’s always going to one or two guys that try to make their name by giving the take Lebron James let Cleveland down by going. There always will be. That probably holds true with fans as well, there’s people who have still not forgiven Lebron James for leaving in the first place.
I don’t think you’re going to see the mass hysteria like when he left in 2010, or when he came back in 2014, but I still think even though there isn’t going to be the anger, even though those coals don’t burn as hot, I still do think, that for sports radio in the next month, we’ve got you there. People are more calm and rational this time around, but I still think they really want to see where he goes.
TM: Do you consider this the biggest month of the past year for Cleveland sports radio?
NW: It’s pretty up there. Look, it’s a Browns town so their season is always a big time for us. I would say the NFL Draft was huge for us as well as the NBA Finals. But I think Lebron’s future in Cleveland is a cottage industry, because it touches all aspects of the NBA offseason.
It touches the NBA Draft, because the Cavs have the No. 8 pick. It touches the trade market because of Kevin Love and the questions of his trade value. It touches free agency, because Lebron is a free agent and the Cavs are going to have to go about that two different ways, depending where he ends up. From a sports radio perspective, you could not set up the next four weeks any more perfect than how they’re set up.
TM: There are rumors that have already come out about Lebron’s next destination and others will come out in the next month. As a host, how do you sort through what’s worth bringing up on the air versus what doesn’t?
NW: This is the million dollar question. For me, I just always try to consider the source. Like, I love Gary Payton and he’s the one who originally said that Lebron James Jr. was going to enroll at a Los Angeles high school next year, but that dude talks as much as any human being in NBA history. Not that I refuse to believe the report, but there’s a part of me that can laugh about it a little more that Gary Payton would be the guy to break this kind of news.
Having seen Lebron for so long, I think everything is automatically something that you can take a little skeptically, which I think makes it a little more fun. But I actually think that’s part of the on-air stuff. I think some of the best conversations that I’ve heard on Lebron James and his future, are do you trust this report? You cannot get two Clevelanders who trust the same source of information the exact same amount. It leads itself into a battle royale over things like where Lebron’s kid will go to high school.
TM: Aside from Lebron himself, what kind of guests are you looking for in the next month to add insight to this story?
NW: I really love the Cavs beat. Dave McMenamin, Jason Lloyd, Joe Vardon from the reporter perspective. I like all those guys. From the current player perspective, give me Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye. From Lebron’s camp, I would say it’s probably be Rich Paul. From Cavaliers historical, it’s Mark Price. It depends on the way you look at it, but I love listening to those number of perspectives for different reasons. Each one can give you an insight into Lebron that are so fascinating and so singular in terms of how they view him and the pursuit of his legacy.
TM: Let’s say Lebron doesn’t sign in Cleveland. Are they now on the back burner in terms of your topic list?
NW: I don’t know way less Cavs, it’s interesting, because when Lebron left in 2010, there was still a lot of talk on the team because it galvanized people in a direction. The Cavs had been kind of listless, near the top of the Eastern Conference but never able to get over the hump or able to get another great player to town.
So Lebron leaving that first time, there was an intense amount of interest for the first 16-18 months of the Cavaliers. Then, of course as rebuilding processes do, people fell by the wayside and the feeling toward Lebron lessened and lessened. I do think that any decision that he makes, for the first year, is going to galvanize people in one direction or the other.
TM: In terms of capturing your audience, are the Browns poised to pick up where the Cavs fall of if Lebron leaves?
NW: The Browns have been poised to pick off anybody from any audience, no matter Lebron James, the Indians, any national story, they’ve been poised to pick this thing off since they came back in 1999. As a matter of fact, it took Lebron coming back in 2014 to really kick the Browns off their mantle. Even though the Browns have lost an asinine amount of their fan base, for what’s happened the last three years, I still think the Browns are going to be king of this town if they start winning.
What I will say, is if Lebron stays along with the championship expectations, I don’t think it’s going to be a clean victory by the Browns. At that point, it will probably be a similar ratio as to what it is now, but if Lebron leaves and Baker Mayfield turns out to be a nice quarterback and the Browns start to win, you could just say a prayer for the Indians and the Cavs because I may not get to talk about them for the next 5-6 years.
TM: Does the allure of a sports radio job in Cleveland hinge on Lebron being in town? Especially with people that aren’t from the area?
NW: Oh absolutely. Cleveland is an interesting market because it’s very insulated and there’s a lot of people that have been doing it for several years. I do think for a lot of the younger guys, Lebron holds a lot of the intrigue. Some younger have to ask themselves, I’m going to follow the old trend of staying in Cleveland for your career, or are there other places where there might be more interesting teams or just as interesting cities as Cleveland without Lebron.
Any young guy making his name in radio in Cleveland, has to think about that, because from the external standpoint, I get a lot of publicity just off the fact I’m in Cleveland and know a few people in radio. When they need someone to talk Cavs, boom, I’m on CBS or I’m on in Portland with my boy Chad. Just for me, who’s someone that’s broken through the Cleveland market in the last 5-7 years, if I’m getting attention like that I can only imagine what someone who’s been here longer or in any of the drive shifts is getting, publicity wise.
I do think the intrigue factor with Lebron has been something that’s incalculable the last four years. I guarantee you, a young kid who just graduated college from Syracuse, who’s looking at two similar jobs, is saying, oh man, it would be cool to go and talk about Lebron. But if he leaves and we become Browns centric, it will be interesting to see what that does for the young professionals.
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
NBC Must Develop a Real No. 2 NFL Crew for Playoffs
Is the network’s only other option Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett?
Several years ago, the NFL objected to NBC wanting to employ Mike Tirico as the lead play-by-play voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts. The league preferred Al Michaels because he was NBC’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play announcer and wanted the TNF telecasts to carry the same prestige as Sunday Night Football.
Following the network’s heavily-criticized broadcast of Saturday’s Wild Card playoff game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL may want to impose its authority again and insist that a top-tier broadcast team call the action of an important postseason game.
The consensus among fans and media watching Saturday’s broadcast was that Michaels and analyst Tony Dungy were surprisingly low-energy for an NFL playoff game, let alone one that became so exciting with Jacksonville rallying from a 27-0 deficit for a 31-30 victory on a last-second field goal.
Such a lackluster broadcast led to questions of whether or not Michaels was now past his prime after a season of calling subpar TNF games for Amazon and what initially appeared to be another snoozer when the Jaguars fell behind by 27 points. Pairing him with Dungy, who was a studio analyst all season, certainly didn’t help.
Dungy was as basic as a game analyst could be, typically narrating replays viewers could see for themselves while adding little insight. Worst of all, he demonstrated no enthusiasm for the action, leaving Michaels to fill most of the airtime. The veteran broadcaster showed that he can no longer carry a broadcast by himself. He needs the energy and back-and-forth that Cris Collinsworth or Kirk Herbstreit provide.
So how did NBC get here?
Most football fans know that the network’s top broadcast team is Tirico on play-by-play alongside analyst Cris Collinsworth. But they had their own assignment during Super Wild Card Weekend, calling Sunday night’s Ravens-Bengals match-up. With the postseason field expanding from 12 to 14 teams, resulting in six games being played on Wild Card weekend, NBC was awarded one of the additional playoff broadcasts.
Thus, another broadcast team was needed for that second Wild Card game. Fortunately, NBC had a renowned play-by-play man already in place. Michaels finished out his final season as SNF‘s lead voice by calling Super Bowl LVI, part of a powerful one-two combination for NBC Sports coming toward the end of its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics coverage.
Ending his legendary career with a Super Bowl broadcast would’ve been a wonderful final note for Michaels. That appeared to be a natural path when Tirico moved from ESPN to NBC in 2016. Network executives admitted that a succession plan was in mind for Tirico to take over SNF eventually. At the time, Michaels also likely thought he would retire by then.
But when confronted with the possibility of retirement, Michaels realized he wasn’t interested. He was still enjoying broadcasting the NFL. His skills were still sharp. And perhaps most importantly, he was in demand. Amazon wanted Michaels as the lead voice for its Thursday Night Football broadcasts, bringing instant credibility to a streaming venture that drew some skepticism. ESPN considered him as its Monday Night Football play-by-play man.
As it turned out, ESPN made a bold move for MNF, swiping Fox’s No. 1 NFL crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. That left Amazon for Michaels, and the streaming giant paid him a commensurate salary with the top broadcasters in the industry as part of his three-year contract.
Yet Michaels wasn’t done with NBC either. After his agreement with Amazon became official, NBC announced that its relationship with Michaels would continue in an “emeritus” role allowing him to broadcast the network’s Olympics coverage and that additional Wild Card playoff telecast.
NBC can’t have been happy that most of the social media chatter afterward focused on the broadcast, rather than the game result. Especially when the discussion centered on how poorly Michaels and Dungy performed in what turned out to be a thrilling playoff game. That’s a pairing that the NFL probably doesn’t want to see again.
Michaels will likely call at least one more Wild Card playoff game for NBC since he intends to work on the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. He’s also under contract with Amazon for another two seasons unless he decides to retire before that deal expires. So perhaps the simple solution is keeping Dungy out of the broadcast booth and giving Michaels a better partner.
But can NBC drop in another analyst who hasn’t worked with Michaels all season? Anyone would arguably be an improvement over Dungy. Is it at all possible for Herbstreit to be hired on for a one-off playoff broadcast, thus ensuring that the broadcast team will have some on-air familiarity and chemistry?
Otherwise, NBC’s only other option may be its Notre Dame broadcast team of Jac Collinsworth and Jason Garrett. (The network tried that last season with Tirico and Drew Brees, only for Brees to wilt under the harsher NFL playoff spotlight.)
The pair also called USFL broadcasts for the network, so at least there would be familiarity rather than trying to figure each other out during a telecast. Yet Collinsworth and Garrett aren’t terribly popular with viewers. And as with Brees, that crew will face intense scrutiny with a larger playoff audience.
Unfortunately, NBC appears to be stuck here. Unless the new Big Ten broadcast team of Noah Eagle and Todd Blackledge gets a shot. That might be the best option! Other than Notre Dame or USFL games, where are the other opportunities for NBC to develop a No. 2 NFL broadcast team? No one wants to put Al Michaels through Chris Simms in the broadcast booth, right?
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Al Michaels Has Options But He Has To Make a Choice
“It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.”
I don’t ask much out of game announcers; get excited when appropriate, get the simple information correct, don’t get so caught up in your shtick you put yourself above the game. Al Michaels has been doing all those things well for the better part of half a century and few would argue that he’s not one of the best to ever do it. That doesn’t mean he can’t lose his fastball.
Before you read any longer, I am not here to say Al Michaels has lost his fastball. What I am here to say is Michaels has all too often this season seemed upset with and disinterested in the game he is calling. That isn’t entirely surprising when you consider some of the Thursday night action he called on Amazon Prime where the average margin of victory was almost nine points per game.
On top of that, the Amazon schedule had a dreadful two week stretch with Colts 12-9 win over the Broncos in Week Five and the Commanders 12-7 win over the Bears the next Thursday. It was in that Broncos-Colts game Michaels asked Herbstreit if a game “can be so bad it is good?” Herbstreit’s answer was “No”, by the way. It was the full 15 game schedule that Michaels told The Athletic’s media critic Richard Deitsch was like trying to sell a used car.
All of that is fine, the inaugural Amazon Prime season was not a smashing success. The streaming giant missed audience projections and will lose advertising revenue because of it. The lackluster schedule did not help that. But Michaels was given a second life; he was the NBC play-by-play announcer for the Saturday Night Wildcard Playoff game between the Chargers and Jaguars. It initially looked like Michaels might be the problem as five first half Jags turnovers had them in a 27-0 hole. But the home team staged a nearly unprecedented comeback for the win.
It was the performance by Michaels and, to a lesser degree, his analyst Tony Dungy that has led to criticism. Criticism might be too soft of a word, Michaels was roundly dragged for his lack of enthusiasm during the comeback and specifically on his call of the Jacksonville game winning field goal. The enthusiasm of the call of the game winner had a mid-3rd quarter of week four feel to it.
Me telling Al Michaels how to do play-by-play of an NFL game would be the equivalent of me telling a physicist how to split an atom. So, this isn’t just a Michaels criticism, few things bother me more than hearing a game announcer complain about the length or quality of a game as if he’d rather be anywhere else. It does all of us in the sports industry well to remember 99% of our audience would gladly trade places with us.
How many NFL viewers would sit in the seat Michaels, or any NFL announcer occupies, for free? They’d feel like they won the lottery if they also were getting the money those announcers are getting paid to be there. The guy that works a 12-hour Thursday construction shift just to get home and crack a beer for the NFL game probably doesn’t want to hear how tough that game is to announce.
On top of all of that, Michaels was given the gift of one of the wildest NFL Playoff comebacks you’ll ever see and, at times, sounded as if he was completely disinterested in being there. Pro tip: the best NFL announcer in those moments is Kevin Harlan (see: Miami at Baltimore from earlier this season. That has nothing to do with my lifelong Dolphins fandom). Michaels’ lack of enthusiasm was compounded by the exact opposite from Mike Tirico on the very same network for the Bengals-Ravens Wildcard game Sunday night.
Tirico, like Michaels, has a sterling resume of play-by-play accomplishments. The difference is Tirico sounded like he was having the time of his life on Sunday night.
To be fair, their two styles are different. Michaels has a very old school, Pat Summerall approach. Summerall, Vin Scully and Dick Enberg came along at a time when announcers were far more likely to let the pictures tell the story. More new school guys like Harlan and Tirico approach it differently.
Look, Al Michaels helped us believe in miracles. His place in the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame has long since been cemented. Being a hall of fame inductee doesn’t mean your style will forever be accepted by the masses. That leaves you with a few options; you can continue your style and accept or ignore the criticism or you can ride off into the sunset and enjoy the fruits of your decades of labor.
Al Michaels has what we all want; great options. He can choose any of them and be a winner in the game of life. It doesn’t matter if he enthusiastically embraces them, or not.
Ryan Brown is a columnist for Barrett Sports Media, and a co-host of the popular sports audio/video show ‘The Next Round’ formerly known as JOX Roundtable, which previously aired on WJOX in Birmingham. You can find him on Twitter @RyanBrownLive and follow his show @NextRoundLive.
Bernie Kosar Was the Victim of a Policy That Doesn’t Work Anymore
“The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.”
One week ago, Bernie Kosar lost his job on the Browns Radio Network for placing the first legal sports bet in the state of Ohio. Kosar, just like Jets coach Miles Austin weeks earlier and Calvin Ridley last year, violated a league policy that forbids team employees from placing a bet on any NFL game.
The integrity of the games still matters. The belief that what we are all seeing is being fairly contested is what gives those of us that like to have a little vested interest in the outcome the desire to lay our money down in the first place. I get the league’s discomfort with a coach on the staff of a team in the middle of the playoff hunt making bets. I get its fear of the message it sends to have players making bets.
Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are well within their rights to object to men that can potentially control the outcome of a game or postseason seeding doing anything that even appears to jeopardize its fairness. Even perceived impropriety can compromise the league’s tremendous value.
But Bernie Kosar doesn’t have that kind of influence on the outcome of a game. He is just a broadcaster and not even a game analyst. He is part of studio coverage.
I am far from the first to point this out, but in 2023, the NFL has three official sports betting partners. Just last week, it approved the first ever in-stadium sportsbook, which Fanatics is set to open inside of FedEx Field. If the NFL is comfortable enough with the reality that its fans like to bet to make those things a reality, then Kosar losing his gig is absurd. It is the result of nothing other than “well, that’s the way we’ve always done it” thinking.
Maybe Kosar was terrible on the radio and the team was looking for a reason to move on. I don’t live in Cleveland and I am not a Browns fan, so I have no idea.
How many times have we heard that NFL owners hired Goodell to “protect the shield”? I’m not even really sure what it means or when it applies anymore. If I had a vested interest in the public perception of the league, I know that I would want someone to do the PR math on this situation.
Bernie Kosar isn’t an addict that can’t watch a game without the high of winning or the emotional distress of losing everything at stake, at least not as far as we know. This was a bet made through an advertising partner, to benefit charity. He even said on his podcast this week that the purpose of making the bet was to generate some money for former players in need of help.
This is like Disney threatening daycare centers with lawsuits for painting Mickey Mouse on a classroom wall. The NFL has bigger fish to fry than Bernie Kosar. Hell, it has more pressing issues in Cleveland alone.
Surely you have seen Garrett Bush’s impassioned rant on the Ultimate Cleveland Sports Show about the obstacles facing Damar Hamlin because of how many hoops the NFL makes former players jump through in order to get some kind of pension.
On January 2, we were all united in our concern for a guy that hadn’t even completed his second full NFL season. We didn’t know if he was going to live, but if he did, we all knew that the NFL had done everything it needed to in order to protect itself from ever having to pay a dime for his medical care. Less than a week later, Bernie Kosar was fired for what amounted to a charity stunt that was meant to raise money and attention to very similar issues.
At both the league level and the team level, there was incompetence that lead to a man unnecessarily losing a gig and to the Browns and the NFL looking horribly out of touch with reality.
Are we acknowledging that people gamble or not? Are we acknowledging there are responsible ways to bet on football and are interested in generating revenue off of it or not? Because it doesn’t seem to me that the same league that just gave the thumbs up to open a sportsbook inside of a stadium is really that concerned with people that cannot affect the outcome of games betting on those games.
Has the NFL come out and said that it is going to cover every medical bill for everyone that has ever played the game? We know that this is a brutal game that leaves a physical and physiological impact on the men that played it. Why would we make it harder for someone that knows that pain to help others do something about it?
I feel awful for Bernie Kosar. Whether he needs the money or not, it is embarassing to be at the center of a controversy like this, particularly because in the NFL in 2023, there is no reason for a controversy like this to exist.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.